SALT LAKE CITY — Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds, kicking off the second annual LoveLoud music festival on Saturday, said ultimately he looks forward to the day LoveLoud doesn't have to exist.
"To me, the LGBTQ youth that I've spent time with say their biggest desire is for this not to be a thing. To not to continually have to explain why they love who they love," Reynolds said in a press conference before the festival.
But for now, the LoveLoud festival, meant to provide a space of love and acceptance for LGBT youth, will continue year to year — until it's no longer necessary, Reynolds said.
Breathless from opening his set with the song "Radioactive," Reynolds told tens of thousands of concertgoers: "I wish you could see how much we care about you, how much we love you, how much we support you."
"I accept you, I see you, I stand with you, I fight with you until the end," Reynolds said. "May Utah go down as being the first state to be the absolute lowest suicide rate."
Last year, about 17,000 people filled a baseball park on Utah Valley University's campus for LoveLoud’s debut. This year, the festival came to Utah’s capital city, bringing more than 35,000 to University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The lineup featured appearances from artists including Zedd, Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, Grace Vanderwaal, Neon Trees' Tyler Glenn, Vegabon, Tegan and Sara, and others, along with a finale by Imagine Dragons.
The headliner speaker, Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is openly gay, introduced Imagine Dragons by sharing a message of self-love and acceptance to the packed stadium
"You are a gift to the world," Cook said. "A unique and special gift, just the way you are. Your life matters. ... My heart breaks when I see kids struggling to conform to a society or a family that doesn't accept them. Struggling to be what someone else thinks is normal."
"Let me tell you," Cook continued. "'Normal' just might be the worst word ever created."
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — who made national headlines in 2016 when he apologized for his past treatment of LGBT community members — also made an appearance on stage, telling of how when he was young, he had gone through a "really tough time" and experienced suicidal thoughts.
"I know what I've gone through is nothing compared to what so many of our LGBTQ friends have gone through," Cox said. "But I'm here to tell you we need you to stay. I want you to look around here. You are loved. There is connection. You have support today."
Cox was met with cheers and applause when he announced Gov. Gary Herbert had declared July 28 as LoveLoud Day in Utah.
This year, Reynolds aimed to create not just a larger space for members of the LGBT community to find love and acceptance but to also raise $1 million for LGBT youth suicide prevention.
Reynolds also wants the festival to reach farther than just Utah — his home state, where he's grappled with his own complicated relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as he's worked to be an outspoken ally for the LGBT community.
Youth suicide impacts many more communities than just Utah, Reynolds said, hoping to reach "millions" more by live-streaming the concert with the help of AT&T.
"Now, (we're saying), 'Hey world, we've got a problem. Let's all come together," Reynolds said. "That's where we're moving. That's where it needs to go."
Last week, LDS Church leaders issued a statement in response to a request for comment about Saturday's festival:
"We remain committed to support community efforts throughout the world to prevent suicide, bullying and homelessness," the church statement said. "Every young person should feel loved and cared for in their families, their communities and their congregations. We can come together, bringing our perspectives and beliefs, and make each community a safe place for all.
"God’s message is one of hope and we want our LGBT brothers and sisters to know that they are loved, valued and needed in his church."
Behind unintentional injuries, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In Utah, the rates are higher, with suicide the leading cause of death for the same age group. The number of Utah teenagers lost to suicide skyrocketed 141 percent from 2011 to 2015. Experts say individual suicides typically arise from a combination of factors.
For LGBT youth, suicide statistics are “even more heartbreaking,” said Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides suicide prevention. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth, according to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control study.
"This is a public health crisis," Paley said. "And not just in Utah but across the country."
What's "powerful" about LoveLoud, Paley said, is the festival sends "a clear message to all LGBTQ people across the country that you are not alone. You are beautiful the way you are and there are people that support you and who see you for who you are."
Cassandra Coronel, 21, of Salt Lake City, came to Saturday night's concert, eager to see bands like Imagine Dragons. But Coronel, who identifies as bisexual, said she mostly came for LoveLoud's cause.
Coronel said she's had friends who have committed suicide "because their families didn't accept them as who they are." She said she has also experienced her own difficult times.
"Sometimes I feel like no one is there and the world can be so cold," she said. "But seeing all this for one common great cause is really amazing."30 comments on this story
So as she walked around the stadium with thousands of other people who came to LoveLoud, Coronel said, "it blows my mind."
One of Coronel's friends, Nikayla Spriggs, 20, said she doesn't identify with the LGBT community, but she came to LoveLoud to show her support.
"With everything that's going on in Utah right now — with all the youth suicide and issues with LGBT youth not feeling accepted, it's really important that they have a community and know that they're loved and accepted by everybody," Spriggs said.
Contributing: Ray Boone